My Broken Tower

In my previous post, I talked about my travels in Patagonia in 2018, which marked my first experiences with multi-day trekking. Towards the end of that post, I mentioned that upon completing the W Circuit in Torres del Paine, my girlfriend and I desired another adventure in the area. We sought a more challenging, autonomous, riskier, and less comfortable experience, ultimately aiming to be more immersed in the surrounding nature. We considered Torres del Paine to be a spectacular and safe place to attempt our first self-sufficient multi-day trek. Consequently, we began planning, taking into account the new challenges and lessons learned from our previous experience.

New Aspects

  • Packing our backpacks with tents, cooking equipment, food, and all essential items for trail navigation.
  • Ensuring high-quality food. During our time in El Chaltén, food had been a significant low point in our planning. However, when we tackled the W Circuit in Torres del Paine, purchasing all our food at the refuges significantly enhanced the experience. As we say in Uruguay, “a full stomach makes a happy heart.”
  • Planning a route as flexible as possible within the framework of the park’s strict reservation system. The Patagonian weather hindered our enjoyment during the W Circuit. In an attempt to be more resilient to this factor, I worked on planning the route, which I will discuss later in this post.
  • Assembling a group of individuals, even if they were not acquainted with each other, who were aware of the type of activity we were undertaking. This way, we aimed to create a community within the group, where everyone shared similar objectives.


Our first decision was to visit the park in February, nearly a month earlier than in 2018. Patagonian weather in January and February is milder during these months, but on the flip side, more people are present in the park. The second most important consideration was having the opportunity to visit the most impressive points on two different days: Glacier Grey, the Británico lookout, and the Torres del Paine.

The itinerary we followed was as follows:
1 – Serón
2 – Dickson
3 – Perros
4 – Paso
5 – Paine Grande
6 – Italiano
7 – Cuernos
8 – Chileno

By staying at Paso Refuge, we had two days to explore the Glacier Grey area. We decided to skip Grey Refuge to shorten the distance to Italiano Refuge, allowing us to spend the afternoon of day 5 and the morning of day 6 hiking to the Británico lookout.

With this itinerary in mind, we proceeded to make reservations, which needed to be done well in advance due to visiting during peak season. The biggest challenge with reservations was that three companies manage these refuges, and each defines their reservation period. Two of the companies opened their reservation periods six months before the peak season, but the issue arose with Paso Refuge. This tiny refuge is managed by CONAF, and its registration period opened less than three months before the start of the season. This uncertainty prompted us to stay vigilant for the announcement of the opening period, and fortunately, we secured a spot.

The Crew

In our previous trip, we were all friends studying together at the engineering faculty, and one day we said, “Why don’t we all go on a trip together?” This time would be different, as a multi-day trek, carrying all your belongings, is not enjoyable for most people. Keeping this in mind, I started thinking about all my friends, seeking those who might be interested in and enjoy such an experience. It was clear that among those who went on the W Circuit, only my girlfriend shared the same enthusiasm for this type of “vacation” and since we didn’t enjoy traveling alone… I began assembling our O Crew.

Pedro and Mike

Pedro (left side) and Mike (right side)

The first person who came to mind was a fellow student, my dear friend Pedro Alvez. Pedro was a unique individual; every conversation or activity with him always led to deep reflections about the world we live in. His relentless pursuit of connection with the “ser” and with all humanity made him the prime candidate for embarking on a 10-day trek through magical places. Alongside Pedro, Mike joined the list. Although I didn’t know him well, Pedro did, and the hope was that the trail would bring us closer together.

Pablo and Laura

While planning this journey along the O Circuit, we took a group trip to Peru the previous year to hike the renowned Salkantay Trail. This was an excellent opportunity to find people who shared our passion for the mountains and would fit into the group attempting the O Circuit madness. The first to join was Pablito, and to this day, we joke that I convinced him to come with me by taking advantage of his shortness of breath from running up to the Laguna Humantay shouting, “PEÑAROL, PEÑAROL” (a well-known Uruguayan football team). The place we were in was of absolute beauty, so Diego took the chance to tell Pablito that he had to join our adventure.

Laura (left side) and Pablo (right side)

In Laura’s case, it was quite different; what brought us together was a night of board games in a refuge where we stayed. While the rest of the 50 people accompanying us went to some hot springs, we stayed behind playing “Secret Hitler,” a fun and intense board game. Laura hadn’t interacted much with the other people on the trip; you would always find her calmly sitting somewhere, taking in the vastness of the landscape. It was a pleasant surprise that she wanted to join us.

Ceci and Martin

Six people were a good number for the O Circuit. It was a diverse group; we had never traveled together independently, they didn’t know each other, and I was the only one who knew everyone. This generated some uncertainty about how we would get along during the trip. This changed dramatically when we added Ceci and Martin. They were our couple friends; in fact, they were the first people we had ever traveled with. They had doubts about whether they would enjoy a trek of this nature, but they were also adventure enthusiasts! So they said, “If we don’t do it with you guys, we won’t do it with anyone; this is the moment.” I remember my immense joy when I received that “yes”; I even promised Ceci that I would carry her backpack if she got tired… A promise I wouldn’t be able to fulfill.

Trip reservations

With the itinerary defined and the team assembled, we held several meetings to share our ideas on how to tackle the challenge. The chosen date to start the trekking was February 12, 2020. We planned flights, buses, hostels, meals, clothing, tents, and all the countless other details that come with trekking trips. We were very mindful of the mistakes we made in the previous journey and therefore didn’t want to repeat them. We began all the preparation a year before the desired start date.

Back in October 2019, we managed to make all the reservations and were thrilled to have achieved it. Months of planning, assembling a group, an unpredictable turn of events.

Volleyball in my life

I’ve been playing volleyball since I was 12 years old, driven to the sport because my mother competed in her youth, and I used to play a lot with her as a child. At the age of 15, I began playing competitively, and it was an activity I loved and still love to this day at 35. In 2019, an opportunity arose at my job to participate in an internal tournament for fun. I took on the role of the “leader” of the group due to my experience in the sport and because my colleagues wanted to learn. It was an event that brought our office closer together; we would train on Sunday mornings, and many of my colleagues would bring their children to participate. As the tournament progressed, we kept winning matches, and more and more colleagues joined us to watch, cheer, and share in the experience. We were doing so well that we made it to the final of the championship on November 9, 2019, exactly 95 days before starting the Torres del Paine O circuit.

My physical break

This day began with great anticipation; all our colleagues came to support us! An incredible turnout! We were very happy and eager for what lay ahead. We started the classic volleyball warm-up ritual. I remember grabbing the ball and preparing to spike it through zone 2 of the court. I threw the ball to the setter; she placed it spectacularly. I started the run-up, took the final double step, and leaped… at that moment, I felt a “clack” sound, as if someone had cracked a whip, and instant instability in my right knee.

A little throwback

Since I was 17 years old, I had a chronic knee condition called “jumper’s knee.” This condition, a form of knee tendonitis, caused me a lot of pain when playing volleyball, as if someone were stabbing a hot knife into the lower part of my knee. I remember looking at my coach, asking for a timeout or even a substitution when “jumper’s knee” struck with fury. I did many exercises to keep my knee in good condition, which helped me a lot to continue playing the sport I loved. With this effort, I managed to be pain-free most of the time, although it occasionally resurfaced, but with much less intensity… on November 9, 2019, I had absolutely no symptoms of pain, yet something happened.

Continuation of the match day

I remember continuing forward with the momentum from the run-up, hitting the net head-on, and falling backward onto the floor. I lay still on the floor as my teammates approached to ask, “Are you okay? Can you continue?” I said, “No, please call an ambulance.” I didn’t know what was wrong; it was something different from “jumper’s knee,” as I felt no pain. I remember feeling relieved that I could move my foot, but I never attempted to move my knee, fearing it might start hurting.

We all waited calmly around me for about 20 minutes until the ambulance arrived. The paramedic arrived and prepared to lift me onto the stretcher to take me off the court. As they began to lift my body from the floor, I remember feeling that my leg was still touching the ground, so I made the typical gesture of raising my knee. But to my surprise, that typical gesture had no response. My leg hit against the side of the stretcher, rotated completely without resistance, ending up in an unnatural position. At that moment, I did feel pain, a lot of pain… and beyond the pain, I felt anguish and great fear.

The diagnosis

My girlfriend left her soccer game and went to the hospital to accompany me. They took X-rays, the doctors examined me, but they didn’t tell me what I had. I was very anxious by that point, thinking I had dislocated my knee and that they were waiting for someone to give me a magical “clack” of return… until the doctor arrived and said, “Diego, I have to tell you that we already have a diagnosis of your situation; you have a complete rupture of the patellar tendon.

Patella tendon rupture (image extract from Orthoinfo)

The rupture of the patellar tendon is a rare and serious injury, but it is solvable with surgery. Without my patellar tendon, it’s impossible to use my leg because the movements of the muscles in my leg are not connected to each other or to my bone. In other words, I was completely incapacitated from using my right leg. The operation is an open procedure that involves repairing and reattaching the tendon to my knee.

Becoming aware of my situation

I was operated on November 11, 2019, just two days after the injury. After waking up from anesthesia, my doctor informed me that the operation was successful, despite my tendon being severely deteriorated for someone aged 32. The doctor said, “Don’t worry, now you’re better than before. You’ll have your leg completely immobilized for 42 days, absolute rest, and then you’ll begin a rehabilitation period of at least 140 more days…” I exclaimed, “No, it can’t be! I have a trip planned in 93 days.” The doctor asked, “What kind of trip are you planning? If it involves rest, maybe you can do it, but if you’re thinking of going to a beach or something like that, it will be impossible.” Let’s just say that a 10-day trek covering 180 km isn’t exactly what you’d call “rest”.

The Placebo

The operation was successful, and within a few days, I was back home, confined to bed with a cast from ankle to hip. Those days felt utterly useless; I was stuck in bed, barely getting up to use the bathroom… I couldn’t help but think about how to speed up my recovery. It occurred to me that taking care of my diet could help; if I lost weight, I would put less strain on my legs. So, I began following a meal plan. One day, my friend Pedro, who was supposed to accompany me to Torres del Paine, visited me and gave me a book called “You Are the Placebo” by Joe Dispenza. It’s about healing injuries using the power of the mind over the body. Given my state of absolute immobility, I eagerly started reading the book and decided to begin applying the techniques described in its final chapters. The book suggests aiding your body in healing by using the mind as a guide, focusing it on things that are truly important to you.

Essentially, I aimed to have my room in complete silence with dim lighting, listening to mantras to connect with my present self. Then, I would start imagining scenes of what I wanted to experience in the Torres del Paine O circuit: walking on the trail, sitting around a campfire with friends, having fun, cooking, and a thousand other things.

Images in my mind in my meditation process

In all these scenes, the key was to visualize my right knee appearing and performing the movements that I couldn’t do at the time. During my six weeks of absolute stillness, I diligently practiced these meditations. I come from a scientific background, so it wasn’t easy for me to embrace these ideas. But in situations where one desperately wants to achieve something, we become open to new ways of tackling problems.

My physiotherapy sessions begin.

The six weeks of stillness were completed on December 23, 2019, 51 days before the trekking. When they removed the cast, I feared my leg would collapse, experiencing terrible fear, but in reality, my thin leg was as hard as a rock. I had lost the ability to fully flex my knee. I immediately sought out a physiotherapist to treat my knee, which was challenging due to the holiday season, but I managed to find one! The first goal was to regain 90° flexion in my knee. Aquatherapy sessions were TORTURE; tears streamed down my face as I endured the exercises to regain flexibility. During those moments, I tried to transport my mind to the meditation images I had practiced during my weeks in bed. I thought, “This pain is for that, this pain is what will lead me to the trail with my friends, this pain is what will take me to the Torres del Paine O circuit.” I underwent four hours of physiotherapy per day, yet my progress was very slow, and I couldn’t regain full flexion. Still, I refused to let negative thoughts take over my mind and remained convinced that I could achieve it. But a few more things happened during this time.

Sentimental brake

Life had another crisis in store for me, something much deeper than my patellar tendon rupture: my nine-year relationship came to an end. Perhaps I’ll talk more about this in future posts, but for now, I just want to say that my pain seemed endless at that moment. The day I left the house I shared with my girlfriend, I walked 42 km. Walking was always my way of processing the things that happen to me and this was very important.

Well, “walked” in this occasion might be an overstatement; it was more of a hobble than a walk. With the loss of flexibility in my knee, I had developed a compensatory hip elevation to take a step. With sadness, doubt, and uncertainty about my future, I cared little about that aimless walking… I simply did it.

A glimmer of hope

The day after my 42 km walk, I went to the physiotherapist and told him what had happened and what I had done. He examined my knee with great curiosity, performed some tests, pushed my stretch (which was almost at 90°), and said, “Diego, how long until the trekking you want to do?” My response was, “There are 3 weeks left before it all starts.” At that moment, it was the first positive sign I received during this dark time. He said, “Diego, I think you can do it. Let’s set some tests to see how your knee responds.” That message ignited my inner flame. The two tests involved a 15 km trek with a loaded backpack, and if my knee didn’t swell the following week, I had to try a trek with an accumulated elevation gain of 900m. I want to share with you that I managed to complete these two tests.

Diego Latorre and I at the hospital

A curious fact is that the doctor in charge of my operation was named Diego Latorre. Diego like me, and “Latorre” is like “The Tower” in English. A curious coincidence of fate.

Torres del Paine O circuit

One week before starting the trek, I informed my companions that I was going to try. I would be there, but I wouldn’t jeopardize the group’s experience; if my knee couldn’t handle it, I would leave the trail. The excitement from my friends was amazing; they never doubted that I would be able to be there. What they never knew was that I was now going on the trip with my ex-girlfriend. First, I talked to my ex-girlfriend; she wanted to go on the trek, and we discussed that we had no problem going together and sharing this final trip. Nowadays, it seems crazy to me, and I imagine it’s the same for most of you reading this post. We agreed not to tell anyone else in the group about our separation and to go together. The only person who knew about our breakup was Pedro; he was my rock after the breakup, sharing countless conversations with me. THANK YOU FOREVER PETER 😊

First steps

The full crew at the park entrance

Fear is the only thing I can express that I had when starting the trail. I felt good about my leg, but I had uncertainty about what could happen there, especially being with my ex-girlfriend. All I can say is that my wonderful group of friends made me laugh with their craziness from day one on the trail. Many of the images I had in my meditation appeared before my eyes even more amazingly.

Pablo and Laura playing fence with my trekking poles

The first three days on the trail were incredible, the fun at Serón, the stunning Dickson refuge, the Glacier in the shape of a tree of Perros. I was able to complete them without any problems, without inflammation of my knee.

The stunning Dickson refuge

“Tree” glacier in Perros refuge 

They were postcards of those first days in the park. But my big challenge was coming up, the John Gardner Pass.

Grey Glacier and Gadner Pass

If you recall my previous post due to weather conditions, we couldn’t appreciate any of the three main attractions of the W circuit. One of these attractions was Grey Glacier. In the O circuit, you also pass by Grey Glacier, but in a much more extensive and incredible way. When crossing John Gardner Pass, you get to see the glacier from above, and as if by magic, the weather this time allowed us to see Grey in all its splendor and even gave us a rainbow over it.

Grey Glacier from Paso viewpoint

This day was intense, super exhausting; I feared the ascent, but the reality is that the descent ended up annihilating me. When we arrived at Paso camp, I was exhausted, but the good thing was that there was no sign of inflammation, let alone pain.

French Viewpoint and British Viewpoint

I can assure you that in my memories, there was the snowstorm and wind I encountered on that trail. The reality was that day we were greeted with totally open and breathtaking weather.

Ice wall in French viewpoint

I hold in my heart some words from my friend Pablo, who thanked me for convincing him to come. He connected very strongly with French Glacier, which seemed like a wall of ice on a great mountain. It seemed like the world ended there… behind that ice wall.

Pablo going to Británico viewpoint

We were there! And I was part of it.

Me holding the stone hammer

Torres del Paine

The final day of our journey was approaching, the place that appeared with me in my deepest dreams. That day we started the ascent very early; unlike my previous attempt, there were no traces of snow on the trail. It seemed like a different PLACE, it was incredible. As I faced the last switchback, I started to feel very emotional; the last turn, and I saw the towers in the distance. I broke down, hiding my tears behind my sunglasses. I simply didn’t continue advancing; I stepped aside from the trail while my friends continued on the path to the final trophy. I sat on a rock, with tears in my eyes, and my ex-girlfriend approached me. She stayed with me for a while; it was our farewell in a way; we had achieved what we set out to do in 2018, but the truth is, I didn’t imagine fulfilling it like this.

The full crew at the end of the road

I was sitting in front of the towers; I had overcome a serious injury in record time, practically half the stipulated time. I had shared with my friends, I had formed an exceptional group of people who didn’t know each other very well, but were united by the passion that trekking awakened in them. I was delighted to have achieved that! But the reality is that I was facing one of the most difficult moments of my life. Times of crisis, times of great sadness and pain lay ahead… ultimately, my broken tower was there in front of my eyes. I see that photo of me alone with the towers behind me and see all those emotions on my face.

I hope you enjoyed this post; it’s difficult for me to talk about this topic, but I believe it’s necessary because this was the beginning of my great crisis. A crisis that gave birth to the idea of ​​traveling the PCT, and nowadays, I can say! I want to be a PCT hiker.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 4

  • mechanic company : Mar 20th

    Usually I do not read article on blogs however I would like to say that this writeup very compelled me to take a look at and do it Your writing style has been amazed me Thank you very nice article

  • mechanic service : Mar 20th

    I have read some excellent stuff here Definitely value bookmarking for revisiting I wonder how much effort you put to make the sort of excellent informative website

  • Pedro : Mar 20th

    Diego, you are the best example of brave heart and determination that I have ever met! You guided us from knowing ZERO of treking to enjoy this 9 days on the mountains with lots of challenges. So you not only succeed with your phisical and emotional challenges, but you also encouraged a group of people to achieve it! That’s enormous!
    I will always keep this trekking as one of the best of my life (hope better ones come in the future!). Thank youuu Captain!

    • Diego Acuna : Mar 24th

      Peter! You are amazing bro! Always in my hearth, You will accompany me every step of the way on the PCT!


What Do You Think?